Friday 26 September 2014

Snes Review : Super Aquatic Games (Game 059)

If you're reading an article, review or even a retrospective look back at a game you're normally interested in the subject matter. However, sometimes if you enjoy a specific writer’s style or humour you may even read something on a subject that doesn't interest you just to see this favoured writer’s take on it. In the past you've trusted this writer to help you find things that interest you, they have taught you tidbits of trivia on an unusual subject and maybe they have even introduced you to something you've grown to love but previously never heard of. 

In any form of critical writing there's always the belief that the author thinks their opinion is correct. It may not be the view of everyone, but if they are confident enough to commit their stance to paper (or the internet) they are certain that their words reflect their opinion. Everyone has an opinion on everything, but should we pay attention to everything anyone says? Games are made with a target audience in mind. Of course in an ideal world they will find favour with everyone but should this not be the case, with a specific targeted audience at least a game will be popular with a few. If a critic is outside of this target audience do they have the right to be critical of something that isn't even designed for them to be playing?

Even from a quick look on the box for 'Super Aquatic Games' its clear this is a game for children. The stars of this game are the "Aquabats" a bright colourful bunch of human like fish that include "James Pond" from previous game 'Robocod'. Alongside the underwater agent is unicycle riding Mark the Shark, a happy go lucky frog in running shorts and a starfish with an expression that can only be described as pure rapture. They all leap from the box excitable and enthusiastic, like characters from a Cbeebies cartoon. Text dotted around the box really does remove any doubt as to whom the game is aimed at. "Suitable for girls and boys of all ages" it clarifies.
This is a game that is not aimed at cynical adults with a thirst for violence, it's one aimed at young children who crave the bright and joyous. It's was a game that would never do well with magazine reviewers, unless of course it's critique written by a four year old. Nintendo Magazine System were particularly scathing "a terrible attempt at reviving a long dead genre" they wrote, giving the game less than half marks. It was a view shared by countless others. “It’s all very slick and everything” wrote Jonathan Davies for Super Play “but all this technical finery makes a collection of impossibly simple and repetitive games that you’ll quickly get tired of”. Even one of the games’ biggest cheerleaders Simon Byron (now known for hosting the ‘One Life Left’ Podcast) struggled to find praise. “I think that ‘Aquatic Games’ has enough humour and nice touches to warrant a purchase by all but the most sophisticated gamer” he claimed in a review for One Magazine. “The graphics style here is quite simply excellent and all the cartoonish characters are completely lovable.”

Reviewers seem certain that "childish game play" merited a low score, but it because of this very reason that I wanted the game.

 I have in the past written on my 4 year old daughter's occasional interest in the games that Daddy is playing.Recently, I've noticed that when she plays games on an iPad it's been less about randomly pressing things to get an immediate response and more about doing an action that would contribute to a larger overall goal. She is playing games less for novelty and more for reward.
I vaguely remembered the game from my own youth and had hoped that the different mini games that make up 'Super Aquatic Games' would be ideal for her. Sadly though, the critic’s negativity is actually warranted.  Having spent some time playing it with her I’ve discovered that if it's a game that's to be enjoyed by the very young it's far too complex and as a game for adults it's far too limited.  

In essence the game is a mini game collection that takes control inspiration from 'button mashing' games; the most famous of which is of course 'Track and Field'. Game play is minimal and in the main all of 'Super Aquatic Sports’’ ten games just require constant pounding of a single button, or repeated actions to accumulate points. For example, in the first event is "The Hundred Metre Splash" all the player must do is press ‘B’ as fast as they can until the James Pond character crosses the finish line. The game play is shallower than the pool Mr Pond runs across and quickly becomes tiresome for anyone accustomed to more sophisticated games. Sadly though for younger players it is seemingly impossible to press the button at a fast enough speed to get a qualifying time, even in easy "tadpole" mode. The slight problem is that unless you qualify for this event you cannot play others in the main mode. Despite her best efforts my 4 year old daughter code not progress beyond the first stage, even though all the evidence suggests that she is who this games is made for. Fortunately there is a practice mode that allows you to select from all of the events, though for many the same problem exists; they're too complex for the young to monotonous and frustrating for the old.
Take the event called "Feeding Time" for example. The object of this mini game is to help Freddy Starfish feed other fish, by collecting food in a bucket and then pouring it into their waiting mouths. Unless you do this quickly enough they get caught on a fishing line and the mini game ends. My daughter could not fill up the bucket and feed the fish within 17 seconds and consequently every time she tried it, the event ended seconds after it began.

In another the object is to stop sleeping sea lions from being woken by beach balls that seem to be bouncing on their heads. To achieve this you need to make a character jump at an angle that deflects the beach balls away from the slumbering animals. Again this proved too complex for a child to do consistently and so the mini game ended in seconds and always in failure. 

One thing that keeps my daughter continually returning to the game, despite her inability to play it properly is the eye catching visuals. Everything looks clean, crisp, and more colourful than a coral reef. It echoes the wit seen in 'Robocod' with stages littered with visual jokes, fish puns and clever little details. Sadly though there is a lot of repetition. 
The levels in 'Super Aquatic Sports' all seem to be derived from one of four templates and so often it looks like it’s just a different character taking on the same event. Equally repetitive is the music. Though it may be happy, bouncy and jolly the two or three tracks in the game repeat so often they become annoying. This is made all the worse when a child is playing it and you end up just hearing the first 15 seconds of a track on repeat, as they repeatedly try the same level over and over again.

It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago, £30 seemed a suitable price to pay for what would now be sold for 69p on a tablet. Chances are you may have a favourite event and you could conceivably play that event for long enough to master it, but I can’t imagine anyone playing for long enough to justify the price. As Amiga Power said, “it’s a game that’s fun for half a day, three quarters of a day if you have lots of friends round”.  Nintendo Power may have said that “younger kids may get “cod up” in the simple events and big, colourful graphics” but for my daughter this interest lasted a weekend and she hasn’t asked to play it again since. 

It’s a shame that, though she hasn’t vocalised it, a child’s view on ‘Super Aquatic Games’ matched an adult’s. Consequently, it isn’t a bad game because it’s one aimed at children, its’ a bad game because the children it’s aimed at don’t like it.  The belief that bright colours happy music and silly characters will be enough to engage a child is true to a certain point, but I would wager that half an hour of entertainment really isn’t worth the effort of getting hold of a copy of the game.

I think rather than have to watch her struggle with fishy sports events that are impossible for her to complete I shall point my daughter back in the direction of far superior games on the Super Nintendo. Though she can’t play ‘Super Mario World’ or ‘Donkey KongCountry’ in the way in which they were intended, at least when she masters the skills they need there is an enjoyable game waiting for her to discover.

Where did I get this game form?
I bought this rather on a whim from eBay. With some time off I wanted to try again to turn my normal outside loving daughter into a sunlight dodging geek. Clearly this wasn’t the game to do it. I dare say she would have been much more amused if I spent the £12 I wasted on this game on play sand and bubble mixture. Unlike ‘Super Aquatic Games’ these are designed for children and can actually be enjoyed by them.

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